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America's First Cocaine Epidemic

NCJ Number
Wilson Quarterly Volume: 13 Issue: 3 Dated: (Summer 1989) Pages: 59-64
D F Musto
Date Published
6 pages
The current war on drugs, with its emphasis on eliminating the use of cocaine and crack, has a parallel in America's first epidemic of cocaine use in the late 1800's and its subsequent response to the drug.
Once the use of cocaine spread from South America after 1860, the drug won widespread approval from the medical establishment and the public. Cocaine was an active ingredient in Coca Cola, many wines, and remedies for hay fever and other common ailments. By the turn of the century, Americans were using substantial amounts of the drug; legal imports of coca leaves averaged 1.5 million pounds annually and the amount of cocaine consumed in the U.S. averaged 200,000 ounces. As evidence of cocaine addiction spread, however, it came to be regarded as the curse of the American middle and lower classes. By the beginning of World War I, all 48 States had passed anti-cocaine statutes. In 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Act, tightly regulating the distribution and sale of drugs; the law had widespread public support and was largely successful in eliminating illicit drug use.